The Streets of Colombo

Unfortunately I spent the last night in Galle and the first whole day in Columbo with Delhi Belly. While I (and those around me) was miserable for about 36 hours, I was able to get out and about today in the cosmopolitan capital of Sri Lanka.  I have another full day tomorrow before we leave late for the long journey home.

Temples and Such

We visited a Buddhist temple, a Hindu temple, and an Islamic mosque.  We didn’t get access into the mosque, we didn’t know until reading the guide book after we left and if we nicely asked the security guard he would have probably let us in.  However the exterior, in its own right was pretty striking.



Detail view







Paints used to paint the “third eye” (Hindu)



Pettah Markets

Perhaps the highlight of the day for me was visiting the markets of Colombo. It was a constant battle to not be run over by a tuk tuk or other forms of manual drayage laden to the max.  While all the active participants moved in a hurry and with a definite purpose, they seemed to tolerate our strolling about…to a degree.



Smile for me! (Or the mutton)







Enchanted Galle

We’ve now made our way from the wilds of Yala National Park to the antique town of Galle (pronounced Gawl). My exploration has primarily centered on the Fort area of the city which was built by the Dutch beginning in 1663. It is crammed full of little boutique shops, cafes, and hotels. The classic architecture melds with a tropical setting to create a most pleasant place to amble around the little streets. It is hot and humid however.


Sunset from the walls of the Galle Fort


We’ve now made our way from the wilds of Yala National Park to the antique town of Galle (pronounced Gawl). My exploration has primarily centered on the Fort area of the city which was built by the Dutch beginning in 1663. It is crammed full of little boutique shops, cafes, and hotels. The classic architecture melds with a tropical setting to create a most pleasant place to amble around the little streets. It is hot and humid however.



A typical street in Galle

We are staying in a beautiful and historic hotel that also dates from the 1600s.  Upon arrival the manager felt compelled to give us nearly the entire history of the building.  It was obvious he was truly proud of its restoration. It once served as an administration for the Dutch garrison that was stationed here.  Later, when the Dutch were routed by the British, they added the second story to the building. You can clearly see the difference in the architecture.



Note the second story


Galle Fort Hotel

I spent a leisurely morning strolling around the old fort area just snapping a few pictures and becoming totally drenched in sweat.  It seems everywhere I turned there were wedding couples conducting photo sessions.  Where I had the nerve, I snapped one for myself.




Several religions seem to exist peacefully in Galle.  Here you see a small Buddhist shrine with St. Anne’s Christian church in the background.


There is also a large Muslim population in Galle.  The mosque is near the hotel, and I heard the first call to prayer at 5:23am today.


Don’t you wonder what he’s thinking about?

On the drive here we, of course, passed through several little towns on our four-hour drive.  In one of them (I forget the name now) we happened upon a little parade going down the main street.  Our driver said it was something to do with the schools, and it was most children and young people.



These smiles greet you all over Sri Lanka!



Best friends



The Dutch Reform Church (circa 1640) and the tombstones in the churchyard. It being Sunday, a service was going on so I didn’t step inside.









They are crazy about cricket here.  I watched for a long time and I still don’t get it.  I’m convinced I never will.



Ella and Yala

We left Kandy bound for the little village of Ella, Sri Lanka. Our drive was to take us through the Hill Country of Sri Lanka. I had read that it was a beautiful drive, but I was not prepared for just how dramatic it could be in places.  This is the area of the country where tea is king, and often for as far as the eye could see the hills were covered in a verdant carpet of green.


Picking tea

We arrived in Ella a little road weary.  The last 500 yards was especially interesting.  Our hotel was up on a mountain and the road was under construction.  The solution was to take a tuk tuk sent by the hotel.  It was a memorable ride.  The hill was so steep that the tuk tuk could hardly make it up the steep, curvy road.  We kept stalling out, rolling backwards, and then getting another run-and-go, until we made it to the top. But it was worth it because the hotel was in a stunning location and we had the first cool weather (altitude) since arriving. It was truly a welcome respite.






But I will have to say that the highlight of the visit to Ella was the private cooking class that our driver/guide, Dinesh, arranged for us.  We prepared the entire meal and then had the best lunch we’ve had the entire trip. And that’s no exaggeration!


Preparing for our cooking class


Cooking Sri Lankan Cuisine


Coconut oil for the fried eggplant.  Simply delicious.



Sri Lankan food is a lot of vegetables and little meat.  Very healthy.

In the photos above our instructor is preparing the fresh coconut for the sambol.  It was another of my favorites and is eaten similar to a condiment.



Preparing the banana leaves that served as both a warming vessel as well as dining plates.



The rice and other prepared foods are then arranged in bowls and inverted onto the banana leaves.



Finally the food is folded into the banana leaves and placed in a steamer.

While the packets of food were warming in the steamer the popardam are prepared.  We are then ready to eat.  Traditional Sri Lankan food is typically eaten using your hands.  I gave this a try and actually succeeded for the entire meal, however it just felt wrong to a certain degree.

After we ate we continued on, driving through more beautiful countryside to our next destination called Yala and its national park. We stayed in a wonderful ocean-front resort right next to the entrance of the park where we planned a morning safari drive the following day.

“Morning” means leaving the hotel at 5am! But we were blessed with a nice sunrise and cool temperatures at the beginning.  Perhaps I’m jaded by having been on safari in Africa and Sri Lanka simply doesn’t compare to the grandeur. We searched in vain for the elusive leopard to no avail. Alas.



Sunrise in Yala National Park







Crocodile.  A big ‘in





Always one of my favorites!

And the finally, after eating dusting and bouncing around for hours I rewarded myself with a little down time.







Randy in Kandy


Making offerings to the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha. Kandy, Sri Lanka


Kandy is a comely city surrounded by hills and a picturesque lack smack dab in the middle.  It is Sri Lanka’s second largest city and it bustles.  However a certain amount of calmness exists due to the lovely setting I think.

The main attraction here is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic and it is the most important Buddhist site in Sri Lanka. It is purported that an incisor of the Buddha himself is stashed away in a casket which is displayed inside the main temple.  No photos are allowed.

Sri Lankan Buddhists believe they must complete at least on pilgrimage to the temple in their lifetime, as worshipping here improves one’s karmic lot immeasurably. It seemed to be especially popular with young couples with infants, but I don’t really understand what the significance of that is.


Making a fashion statement in Kandy

Like a dolt I wore shorts for the visit to the shrine (Yes, I do know better).  I was quickly and sternly informed by security personnel (military perhaps?) at the entrance that I would not be allowed entry in such indecent attire.  However an enterprising man hovered nearby and was quick to offer me the beautiful piece of 100% polyester pictured above to cover my gangly legs. At a cost of 1,000 rupees! Now I understand how women feel when they visit a mosque.  I threw my newly purchased sarong in the trash upon leaving the temple.


I thought this was a most interesting statue and it is obviously making a statement about British colonial rule.

The rest of our day was spent wondering the busy streets shopping and having lunch at the old Queen’s Hotel in the city center.  In the late afternoon we took in a performance of “traditional” Kandyan dance. The costumes were elaborate and the moves gyrating.  However I sort of felt it was not necessarily traditional but was rather directed at their foreign audience.  It was a good way to spend an hour though.




Kandy, Sri Lanka



The Road to Kandy


Continuing our tour of the “cultural triangle” or the “ancient cities” of Sri Lanka we are making our way to Kandy with a few stops along the way.




This city was the royal capital of Sri Lanka for about three centuries.  Although nearly 1,000 years old, it is much younger than Anuradhapura. Although the ruins are definitely Buddhist, I sense more Hindu influence here (Buddha was a Hindu you know).

Those who have followed this blog know that part of my purpose of travel is to disburse Ray’s ashes all over the world. Each time I take a trip I look for a place that just speaks to me and that is where I leave them.  I found just that spot I found just that spot at the Vatadage in the Polonnaruwa Quadrangle.

In the photos above you can see the front and rear facing view and in the third on (white spot in the foreground) is where Ray is in both body and spirit. (You can click the individual images for more detail).


Reclining Buddha, Polonnaruwa (photo credit:  Joan English)



Buddha image, Polonnaruwa.  Photo credit: Joan English

Along the way we stopped at a most interesting place for lunch called Jaga Foods.  It was in a farm setting, and most of the vegetables were grown on site.  The owner was a delightful man and the food was very good.dsc01723dsc01721


Shrine, Polonnaruwa


Lotus Pond, Polonnaruwa

Sigiriya, Dambulla, and Matale

Continuing on, we made a photo stop at the huge rock outcrop at Sigiriya.  From the photos we saw of the top, it looked fascinating.  But with 2,000 steps, we decided that this is something we’d do while we are still young in our next life.



The next stop, and perhaps my favorite of the day, was at Dambulla where hundreds of Budhha images are placed in caves. At two hundred steps this was a much more realistic endeavor than Sigiriya. At the base of the shrine is a very large golden Buddha that was rather new.  For my taste it sort of added a theme park atmosphere to an otherwise very beautiful setting.dsc01771


Danesh and the Golden Buddha



The faithful reaching the top of Dambulla


Cave shrine, Dambulla


Buddha images, Dambulla


Reclining Buddha, Dambula



Buddhist monks, Dambulla

Our final stop before reaching Kandy was a gorgeous Hindu shrine in the city of Matale.  We had the whole place to ourselves and it was very peaceful.  The detail on the carvings is incredible.  I’ve always fancied Hindu shrines but I think the older ones exude a little more mystery and serenity than the colorful newer ones.dsc01814dsc01813dsc01801dsc01809











Another Stupa Temple



Ruwanwelisiya Dagoba, 2nd century B.C.

Anuradhapura.  Who knew it was even here?  I certainly didn’t until I started planning my trip to Sri Lanka a few months ago. But this calm, mystical, and lovely place is magical.  Joan and I often found ourselves talking about Angkor Wat in Cambodia or the incredible sites in Thailand as we wandered around some of the most amazing stupas (called dagobas in the local parlance) and other archeological sites many dating before the birth of Christ.



But there were a couple of things that were delightfully different from Buddhist sites I’ve visited in the past.  First and foremost, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has not yet been discovered by western tourists allowing for the local population to continue to use the mesmerizing temples to still be used as active places of worship.  The difference this makes for a visitor is amazing.  A lack of crowds provides a sense of serenity that these temples are meant to evoke. This is difficult to find in the modern, jet-set world, and I am so happy to have discovered it.dsc01713

Not to jinx us, but Joan and I have incredible luck at being in places when something important is going on.  The photo above is a good example.  We happened to be Anuradhapura on one of the most important Buddhist holidays of the year.  Here you see followers carrying a bolt of cloth that will be wrapped around the dagoba, like a large ribbon or bow.  The structure is HUGE and it is difficult to describe how long this piece of cloth is. You can see the video here:



Lunch break

Take your shoes off and walk around with me in the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka.  It surely must be one of the steps of reaching nirvana.



Making (and) eating roti


Dinesh sports a great example of the smiles you get from every Sri Lankan you encounter.


Sri Lankan Roti



Offerings made to Buddha



Head to toe(s)



My attempt at being artistic



Buddhist monk



An example of the faithful in Anuradhapura



Offerings being made to the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree



There happened to be a wedding in our hotel during our visit.  Here is the bride and groom.



Jetavanarama Dagoba.  3rd century A.D.


I don’t always wear socks with sandals. But when I do it’s because I have a sore foot.












Ceylon, Ceylon

Sail on. Sail on.  The Commodores, May, 1979

Negombo fish market

Negombo fish market

Well I found myself just about the farthest place from California I can get on this planet.  After a two hour drive, an overnight in an LAX hotel, a 16 hour flight, two hour layover in Qatar, and then a nearly four hour flight I’ve wound up in the the island nation of Sri Lanka. Upon arrival in Colombo (the capital) we zipped right through immigration and customs and was met by our driver/guide, Dinesh,  who has the most dazzling white smile I’ve ever seen.  He’ll be with us for the next couple of weeks.
By design, we spent the first day in recovery.  I, unfortunately, injured my foot two days before Joan and I left so I hobbled around for a bit with her around Negombo (a suburb near the Colombo airport). But finally jetlag, exhaustion, and a diminished tolerance for pain on my part sent us searching for a tuk tuk back to the hotel, some air conditioning, and foot elevation. The next morning we were both a little more refreshed and my foot improved greatly after a little much needed pampering. We’re now ready to set off on our Sri Lankan odyssey.

Negombo fish market

Our first stop is going to  be Anuradhapura. (Say that three times quickly!)  I’ll give more background on the UNESCO World Heritage Site in a subsequent post. On the way to Anuradhapura, we stopped at Wilpattu National Park for a three-hour safari drive.  These are also exciting and Joan and I realized during the drive that this is the third country in which we’ve gone “on safari.” While it wasn’t on par with the scope of animals you’d see in Africa, it will still exhilarating to drive around the park in an open air vehicle and looking for the elusive leopard.


Dinesh, our driver/guide. Sri Lanka


Seeing an elephant in the wild never gets old. Wilpattu National Park


Love the haircut. Did you do it yourself? Wilpattu National Park


Wild chickens in Wilpattu National Park


Lounging around in Wilpattu National Park


Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka


Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka


Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka


Safari. Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka